All of that last entry is prelude to an intriguing, fascinating and needed week-long Zoom Seminar titled Collective Trauma Summit. Featuring healers, psychologists, doctors, spiritual practitioners, poets, social activists, songwriters and more, it takes a look at the effect of Trauma on our citizens, our politics, our culture, our natural habitats, climate change and more. It becomes clear that merely better politicians and better laws, is just the tip of the iceberg (a metaphor climate-change may make obsolete!). Not only are we dealing with a long list of personal trauma—sexual abuse, violence, bullying in the family/ school/ neighborhood/ church—but some are part of a collective trauma induced by racism, genocide, displacement, homophobia, misogyny and all are part of a growing trauma of both the effects of climate change—fires, storms, tsunamis—and the growing fear that the world as we know it soon will end.
Psychologists agree that the initial response to trauma is shock and denial, the nervous system’s survival strategies to protect us from its overwhelming horror. But if we stay stuck in denial, there will be no healing. We will be victims of PTS and most likely descend into depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, either go into deep repression and check out of life or violent expression, turn the rage outward to others. It’s good for exactly nobody.
So in reviewing my “blessed life,” I notice I have experienced the manageable proportion of annoyance, outrage, betrayal, grief that are required subjects in the school of life, but none of these qualify for trauma. Today, I listened to two lectures in the seminar that took my breath away. One by Sherri Mitchell, a member of the Penobscot Nation on the North Eastern Seaboard and another by Hector Aristizabal from Colombia. Both told horrifying stories of the murders of friends, neighbors and family members and personal torture. Each in their own way, they made clear that trauma lives in the cells and never wholly disappears, no matter what you do. And that it is passed on in families for generations, not only by perpetuating the dynamics that helped cause and sustain the trauma, but literally inherited at the cellular level from the ancestors who were enslaved or wiped out in genocide and not properly grieved for, a collective trauma that is real and invisibly at work in the everyday choices we and our culture makes. That’s a lot of grief to carry, a lot of trauma to deal with.
Without understanding that, without properly grieving, without engaging in it through community art, ritual, meditation, no mere laws can effect the change we all need both personally and collectively.
Here’s the bad news—it’s hard. It goes against everything we were taught about being nice, about making sure we get ours in a cutthroat world, about constant shopping and consuming to fill up the holes, about having a nice day. It takes an effort beyond most people’s capacity to even imagine, never mind do. And yet without it, nothing will change and all the forces that created and sustained the genocides, the enslavement, the war against the natural world that has brought us to the brink, will continue unchecked and deliver us to our self-created doom.
Here’s the good news— it’s possible. Sherri and Hector stand before you to testify with the whole of the body, mind and soul that you can work through this and come out the other side. I think of the unimaginable depths of horror they both experienced and compare them to the gun-toting angry mob storming the state capitol (never mind the national one!) because they couldn’t get their hair cut— well, the mind reels. I don’t know if I would have 1/10thof the capacity to do what they did, to speak of these horrors (keeping in mind that recalling them brings them alive again at the cellular level) with such forgiveness and love and hope in their hearts.
Each was asked how they sustained hope and each replied independently that it was the people they were meeting who were getting to work—particularly the young people, determined to draw the line and refuse to pass the trauma forward. I have done a miserable job expressing myself here, just too many powerful ideas and emotions to whittle them down to coherence, but the punchline is simple. We—all of us—me, you, your conservative uncle, your conspiracy-theoried neighbor— need to offer the genuine gift of our soul, the one that feeds life and feeds love (not our happiness collecting guns) and serves others, far beyond any normal “have a nice day” day. Not tomorrow or not sometime, but now. If human beings who have been beaten and tortured and watched family members murdered and seen their language and/or culture disappear can do it, then you can too.
The world is waiting. But not for too much longer. Hurry.